I was heading north, returning to Churchill to get our Goose Hunting Lodge at Dymond Lake open in preparation for the annual Spring Snow Goose Hunt and decided to stop at Calm Air Cargo in Thompson to take stock of any cargo left over from last year. And to make sure everything was in order for the upcoming fishing season.
There was quite a bit of activity going on at the airport. A Hercules cargo plane was being loaded with emergency supplies for one of the Northern communities that was unable to get their freight in on the winter road this year. There was also a Lockheed Electra from Buffalo Airways of Ice Pilot fame being loaded at the same time. Tucked in behind the Electra was another aircraft, and I could only see a bit of the fuselage. Was that a DC-3? Closer inspection proved it was and a light bulb immediately went on. Here was the solution to a potentially BIG problem we would be facing this summer for hauling lumber and pigs of propane into the fishing lodge at North Knife Lake!
I quickly phoned the office and asked them to track down someone in Yellowknife who might authorize us chartering the DC-3 for a trip into North Knife Lake Lodge, about 160 km north of Thompson. After getting pertinent information like runway length and distance from Thompson, the co-ordinator from Buffalo Airways gave me a price and asked when we would have our load ready.
Mike, the co-ordinator asked if it would be ok if one of the photographers from the Ice Pilot series on TV could accompany the small bush plane and photograph the entire operation for a potential addition to their series. Good publicity doesn’t come cheap so I readily agreed. A quick phone call to my son-in-law Nelson in Calgary secured the plane to do the strip check. He could be in Thompson shortly after noon on Sunday, the day we were to load up the DC-3. The remainder of Friday and Saturday were spent finalizing details, getting the load properly configured and adjusting priorities. The three lifts of lumber and four pigs of propane weighed in at 7000 pounds.
It should be mentioned here that our strip at North Knife Lake was built specifically with the DC-3 in mind. By the time we got it finished, there were no DC-3s left in Manitoba and ferrying one in from Saskatchewan was cost prohibitive. We had a very nice DC-3 strip that had never seen the plane it was built for. Part of my excitement in this operation was just having a DC-3 land on the North Knife Lake runway for the first time. We’d had a Hawker Siddley 748 land on the strip when it was frozen in December, but it was unable to handle the soft conditions of summer the way a DC-3 could.
Sunday morning broke crisp and clear across the three prairie Provinces and barring any mechanical breakdowns, we expected to see a successful completion to Operation DC-3. We got the crew transported from the hotel out to the airport, where we met the loader and proceeded to start the process of loading.
Everyone from Buffalo who was in Thompson, including the chief pilot, Arnie Schrader showed up to help load. We had to take apart the lifts of lumber and load them by hand, as that was the way we would have to unload them at the lodge. Many hands make quick work and inside of two hours the plane was loaded and tied down. Nelson came winging in just as we finished, I drove Arnie and the photographer over to the flight side of the airport and we climbed into the Cessna 185 for the one hour flight to North Knife Lake.
Arnie didn’t really even have to do any checking as he could tell just from our landing that the DC-3 would have no problem. There were no serious spring washouts and the strip was in better shape than most springs after the thaw. Leaving the photographer to record the departure and arrival of the DC-3, and me to get the unloading equipment organized, Nelson and Arnie blasted off for Thompson to pick up the loaded DC-3.
Stay tuned for part two of Operation DC-3 coming soon.